Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Address to the National Association of Deacons Conference 2019, Fremantle
“The renewed ministry of diakonia in the Church beyond the shadows of the priesthood“
4 October 2019
PART 5: DIACONATE AS EMBODIMENT OF MUTUALITY
I visited Mundelein Seminary in Chicago and I noticed an interesting feature of the Seminary Chapel. There were seven steps leading to the high altar and on the side of each step was written the respective name of one of the seven Holy Orders. Each step would create an ever-growing chasm between the candidate and the people.
It dawned on me that these vestiges of the Tridentine model of priesthood are powerful symbols of the clerical class. It is part of the ecclesiology that emphasises the ontological change and separation of the ordained from the faithful. It is a powerful ingredient and ideal condition for the disease of clericalism to fester.
I hold that it is time for this exalted, elitist and separate model of priestly ministry to be consigned to the past.
Instead, we must rediscover the specific and full charism of the priesthood within the matrix of the universal priesthood of the faithful. The priesthood and Christian ministry generally cannot be lived fully apart from the community of disciples. This is one of the key insights of the Vatican Council.
The one-sided cultic emphasis gave way to a wider apostolic ministry, which has found expression above all in the teaching, sanctifying and shepherding offices of Christ. The diaconate, if it has a chance to flourish, must be freed from the shadow of the cultic priesthood.
There existed a variety of ministries in the early Church. Paul bears witness to this when he lists a number of gifts or charisms that Christ gave to the Church for the building up of His body.
Yet over the centuries, this richness has been gradually concentrated in the ordained at the expense of the baptised. It is time, therefore, that the priesthood needs to break open anew so as to fully honour what Paul says in that same passage in Ephesians 4 “everyone is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ”.
This is where the diaconate can act as an antidote to clerical dominance and self-sufficiency. Whereas the celibate and male priesthood in the Catholic Church has an innate tendency towards individualism, the diaconate is often exercised not in isolation but in partnership with others, especially with the spouses. The diaconate embodies the injunction of Jesus that Christian ministries be exercised collaboratively and not in isolation.
When Jesus sent out his disciples to announce the Good News, he did so in pairs. What I derive from that practice of his is that Christians can only minister effectively when they recognise their limits as individual and are open to partnership with others.
If the Christian ministry has a better future, it has to find expression in better mutual support, collaboration and partnership. I would especially emphasise the ability to minister with women, because the Church is much the poorer without the gift of women.
Part 6 will be published on Monday.
To read Part 4 of Bishop Vincent’s address, click here.